Hey <<First Name>>,
So, it’s been a while. 2020 was a bit of a black hole for me, as it was for many, and this newsletter is something that had to fall by the wayside.
A lot of my time was spent on Siren, setting up an Indigenous sportswriters program and working to bring in financial partners. None of this work is ‘finished’, yet. If you’d like to chat to me about either of those things, and especially if you can offer support, I’d love to hear from you.
I’m plugging away at my research masters into how sexuality and gender intersect to affect leadership in sport. If all goes to plan, I’ll be handing in my thesis in August.
And I started a new full-time job last month. Please send sleep.
Women in sport leadership
There have been some amazing appointments over the last couple of weeks as well as some less encouraging developments. Let’s start with the latter.
Heather Reid was voted off the Football Australia (FA) board by the narrowest of margins. Accusations were made against her that the board deemed to be unsubstantiated, yet the move to dismiss still went to a vote in an extraordinary general meeting of the congress.
Sports lawyer, Dr Catherine Ordway PhD, Assistant Professor at the University of Canberra specialises in sport integrity. She spoke to Box2Box about the governance issues this situation exposed, and how it fits into the broader context of women in sport leadership.
Dr Ordway and I edited the interview for length and clarity. I recommend you listen to the whole segment on the Box2Box podcast.
Australia's most recognised football administrator Heather Reid was not a Parliament House on Tuesday when Football Australia officials unveiled its plan to create a legacy from hosting the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Dr Catherine Ordway:
At a time when women's football is at the core of Football Australia's post COVID recovery, Reid was voted off the Football Australia board by a razor thin margin. It left many observers scratching their heads at what is surely a Football Australia own goal.
Reid has made an impressive contribution to women's football, a former national executive of the Australian Women's Soccer Association, the first female chief executive of a state football federation, a member of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup organising committee, and together with other influential football women around the world lobbied FIFA to establish a Women's World Cup and the IOC for the inclusion of women’s football in the Olympic Games.
Does football’s bureaucracy have a problem with women? Is there one rule for women and another for men?
We should start by saying in this particular example: the action was brought by Football New South Wales.
It is appropriate then to put a spotlight on their gender equality provisions and practice.
Does Football New South Wales have a technical director for women? Have they had equal numbers of men and women on their board and other leadership positions over time? Do they promote female coaches and officials, referees and so on? So that might be a good place to start, in terms of asking that question.
[The answers to all those questions by the way, is no.]
Heather Reid was accused by Football New South Wales of interfering with the November 2020 Football Australia board election. In particular, interfering over their nominee, Stefan Kamasz.
Dr Catherine Ordway:
The collective view was that it didn't stack up. There were accusations but without evidence or proof.
What does the fact that a vote still went ahead to remove Heather, despite the lack of evidence? What does it say about Football Australia's governance structures, its grievance processes, and in transparency around such an important issue?
I think it says a great deal about the lack of transparency and governance structures.
It is in compliance with corporations law but normally we don't see it getting to this point in other sports, that is, where a director would be up for being dismissed from their voluntary position because of a complaint that isn't substantiated in any way.
This usually indicates there is a lack of trust between the parties, or other agendas at play.
The statements that I've seen from Football Australia and from Heather Reid herself indicate that there was no evidence provided.
I would be asking questions around transparency and why this vote could be made in secret, without people having to indicate whether they were voting ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Why is that it allowed that people can abstain from voting? And what does that actually mean [from a governance perspective] to abstain from voting?
There are a number of different congress members who chose to abstain from this vote. Was it that they weren't interested in who the FA directors are? Or was it that they chose to destabilise the board? Or was it a decision that they had been pressured into? I don't know the answer to that and because it isn't transparent, we don't know. Is there a conflict of interest? Is that the reason why people abstained?
I think that it would be useful for people to know something this crucial about who is actually governing the sport of football in Australia, to have that kind of transparency available.
In recent times along with Heather Reid - Leigh Russell (Swimming Australia), Kate Palmer (Sport Australia), Raelene Castle (Rugby Australia) - various powerful women have been removed from these positions for a number of different reasons.
Dr Catherine Ordway:
How did this sit with you in terms of the treatment of women in elite sport bureaucracy? Especially when we've just been awarded a World Cup.
This has been one of my big concerns: that Heather Reid is just another woman who has been pushed out, excluded, or for other reasons, has chosen to leave her leadership position.
Listen to the full interview on the Box2Box podcast.
What we see nationally and internationally, is that there is a small segment of the community that does not believe that women should be in decision making positions in sport. I think that's fundamentally at the heart of what we're dealing with here. We, as women, are allowed to be in sport, if we're washing the uniforms, if we're working in the canteen, if we're writing the minutes, as a secretary, that's lovely. And we're allowed to do that as much as we like.
As soon as there is a suggestion that women should have an equal place at the table to have a decision making role in the sports that we play, love, watch, and participate in, there's a problem.
Football Australia made a statement in support of Heather. In the statement that I've seen, the FA indicates that there was nothing to the complaint that would require the board to stand her down or admonish her or anything else. And there was no evidence for the board to act.
Was this congress vote a reflection of a divided community? Was it an opportunistic action by a couple of people - because it really did come down to only a couple of votes - trying to destabilise the sport? To what aim? Who is it that's trying to wrestle power in this context? Was it really about Heather Reid, or was this a bigger question about power and influence?
We should all keep talking ‘too much’
After reading the (ex!) Tokyo Olympic chief’s comments about women who ‘talk too much’, Dr Bridie O’Donnell shared her thoughts on the importance of women having a voice in sport.
It is well worth reading and bookmarking the research on who actually does all the talking (spoiler: it’s men) and what your sport can do to change that culture.
Football fan culture
Speaking of culture, I had a fabulous chat with Brodie Wales (Matildas Active Support) and Bonny Boles (Victory Vikings) about active support in women’s football. A lot of the media focused on abusive behaviour by male fans at a recent W-League game but the real story is about the inclusive, safe and welcoming culture that women’s supporters groups are building.
Fingers crossed we can travel by January 2022! We’re all looking forward to going to India to support the Matildas in the Asia Cup.
That’s it from me. I hope these emails will become more regular-ish.
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Have a good week sports fans!